Cleveland centre Tristan Thompson insists the Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the NBA Eastern Conference, despite the departure of superstar LeBron James.
“We’re still four-time Eastern Conference champions,” Thompson told reporters at a Cavs practice on Thursday. “Until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say.
“Boston, Philly, they ain’t got much to say. Boston had home court in Game Seven and lost. Philly, they almost got swept. Toronto, we already know that story. Until someone takes us down, there’s not much they can really say. Not to me.
“Even though LeBron’s gone, we still have a very talented ballclub. We still see ourselves as a playoff team.”
Thompson, 27, echoed comments from Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Media day on Monday.
Asked to tip an Eastern Conference favourite now that James has landed with the Los Angeles Lakers Lue shot back: “We haven’t lost yet, have we?”
Cleveland reached a fourth straight NBA Finals last season by downing the Celtics in game seven of the East finals.
Cleveland had swept the Raptors in the conference semi-finals when Boston beat the 76ers in five games.
The young 76ers squad featuring Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are only expected to be better this season. The Celtics will be bolstered by the return of injured Gordon Hawyard and Kyrie Irving.
Nevertheless, Thompson said the current crop of Cavs players – including veterans Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, are determined to remain a factor in the East, saying James had “prepped us for this moment so when it’s time for guys to part ways we were prepared and we were mentally ready for that challenge.”